The “Caliphate Question”: British Views and Policy toward Pan-Islamic Politics and the End of the Ottoman Caliphate

This paper examines British approaches to the caliphate from the beginning of the First World War to the aftermath of its dissolution in 1924. Background will be given as to how the Islamic conception of the caliphate shifted over time. British use of the caliphate as a political tool in the nineteenth century is also examined, especially with regards to how strong British-Ottoman ties prior to the First World War affected India’s Muslims.

The primary focus, however, will be on British ties with King Hussein of the Hejaz. British suggestions of an Arab caliphate encouraged the idea that Hussein should assume the title of caliph, which would later be a cause of agitation and concern for British policy in the British Empire. This is especially true with regards to India, as fear of Indo-Muslim opinion would deeply influence British policy when it came to the Ottoman Empire’s position in the post-bellum period. With the creation of the Turkish Republic and the subsequent disestablishment of the Ottoman caliphate, Hussein, sharif of the Hejaz, would officially announce his claim to the title. This dismayed the British foreign policy establishment, which strove to avoid suggestions of complicity lest further anti-British activity be encouraged in India.

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